SPND goes bio: the Stem Cell Technology Research Center
Dear Western biotechnology researcher,
We're pleased to meet you! You're probably visiting this web page because you've googled your prospective Iranian research or business partner, the Stem Cell Technology Research Center (شرکت فناوری بن یاخته), and you want to know a bit more about who you're dealing with. Great move! That's called "due diligence".
Unfortunately, we have some bad news for you. The Stem Cell Technology Research Center (STRC) is actually a front for Iran's military and IRGC. It's owned and run by officials from Iran's military industries, and is probably involved in covert procurement of equipment and expertise for Iran's defence sector. If we had to place a bet, we'd say that the STRC is part of the SPND (سپند) organization - a military-run hub for remnants and holdouts from Iran's pre-2003 nuclear weapons program, and also a home to scientists who like playing on the boundaries of research into biological and chemical weapons.
But don't worry! We're here to take you through all the details that will convince your company or university's lawyers that dealing with the STRC would be a really, really bad idea.
Let's answer your questions.
Surely it's not the same organization you're talking about? The STRC looks legit!
On the surface, the STRC looks like a legitimate private medical institution. They've published lots of academic papers on advanced biotechnology research, including with foreign universities. They've even hosted a visit by Iran's science minister, Surena Satteri (سورنا ستاری) back in 2015.
And the STRC also looks like a pretty big organization, at least judging by all of the different names that it goes by. These include:
- Stem Cell Technology Company
- Bon Biotech Stem Cell Technology Company
- شرکت فناوری بن یاخته
- مرکز تحقیقات فناوری بن یاخته
- مرکز تحقیقات بنیاخته
What all of these iterations share (as you can check for yourself) is a single Tehran address: No 9, East 2nd St., Farhang Blvd., Saadat Abad, Tehran, 1997775555. You can even look it up on Google Maps:
(As an aside, you'll note that the STRC is just a hop, skip and jump from Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, home to unfortunate dissidents and foreigners on trumped-up charges of espionage. There's a nice irony there, in that STRC's founder was even incarcerated for a while - albeit not at Evin. But we'll get to that in a minute.)
And just for completeness's sake, STRC's various websites include:
On the surface, it's all perfectly respectable. We're going to look deeper, though.
But they seemed so nice in their email! Is the STRC really run by law-dodgers?
Yes. The owners and senior officials of STRC, who we've uncovered through analysis of hard-to-find Iranian business records, have some concerning connections, to say the least. Your lawyers might say that there are "significant red flags from a corporate governance and KYC perspective".
Let's start with STRC's founder, Dr Masoud Soleimani (دکتر مسعود سلیمانی, national ID 1287947786). Soleimani, an academic from Tarbiat Modares University, is perhaps Iran's premier stem cell researcher. He's authored over 550 articles and 12 books on the subject. By all accounts, he's a very bright man.
Soleimani spent time in an Atlanta prison accused of attempting to arrange the export of human growth hormone from America to Iran without the required licences.
He was released in late 2019 in a high-level prisoner exchange, that even saw part of his return journey to Iran accompanied by then Foreign Minister Javad Zarif . The charges were never proven, but we think you’ll agree that Iran seem to think he is pretty important. We’d take a luxury flight in a Dassault Falcon 900EX over a trans-Atlantic flight with vials of HGH smuggled down our pants any day.
So let's move on to STRC's CEO, Dr Ahmad Karimi Rahjerdi. Anyone with a doctorate must be respectable, right? And certainly, your lawyers' Google searches of Dr Karimi's few English-language scientific publications would bear that out. Sure, Dr Karimi has published research on novel toxins with authors from the IRGC-affiliated Baghiyatallah University of Medical Sciences
(دانشگاه علوم پزشکی بقیه الله), but that's just scientists, right? Everyone's connected to someone.
Look up Dr Karimi's name in Farsi though (احمد کریمی راهجردی, national ID 0051332574), and you'll realize that he's a long-time member of Iran's military and IRGC. He's employed as a lecturer and researcher in biological defence at the Imam Hossein University (دانشگاه امام حسین), the IRGC's own elite officer training school, and an organization reputedly at the heart of Tehran's dabblings with biological weapon agents. Karimi also moonlights as a representative to Iran's Passive Defence Organization (سازمان پدافند غیرعامل), a military-run program for nominally civil defence projects like burying nuclear facilities underground.
Indeed, STRC's board is packed to the brim with IRGC and military types. There's also Dr Ali Gharibian (دكتر علي غريبيان, national ID 0051332574). Gharibian works at MODAFL's Centre for Technology Incubators (مرکز رشد واحدهای فناور), of which you might rightly guess that STRC is actually one. Gharibian is also an old buddy of SPND old-timer and Amad Man Akbar Motallebizadeh (اکبر مطلبی زاده, national ID 4430516261), and we hear that the two were even business partners in a company called Vista Vision Raman (شرکت ویستا ویژن رامان, national ID 14003535924) for a while.
Want to get in touch with Dr Gharibian? You'll find his office at the Shahid Meisami Research Complex (مجتمع شهید میثمی or گروه شهید میثمی), a military-owned pharmaceutical and chemical facility that's another institution at the heart of past accusations of BW-related research by Iran.
Just because we like to help your lawyers out with their correspondence, here's where to find the Shahid Meisami Research Complex. Its address is 27th kilometre of the Tehran-Karaj Highway, after the Atmosphere Metro stop and Metro Bridge, near Taleghani Street, and someone has helpfully tagged it on Wikimapia. Maybe send the bill for your due diligence work to that address.
Back to STRC's personnel, and we've been saving the best til last. Late last year, in what is a laughable lapse of operational security by Iran's defence establishment, a new member was appointed to the STRC board: Mahdi Masoumian (aka Mehdi Masoumian or مهدی معصومیان, national ID 0491942168). We've written about Masoumian before - in March, he was outed as a senior official of the SPND organization, and also as head of an SPND front company named Kimiya Pakhsh Shargh
(کیمیا پخش شرق, national ID 10102179854), which was involved in procuring equipment with nuclear weapon-relevant utility ever since the AMAD pre-2003 nuclear weapons program. Masoumian wouldn't know a stem cell from Soft Cell, but he probably knows a thing or two about covert procurement. So his appointment only serves to flag STRC as even dodgier than it already looked. (Tainted, perhaps?).
Here's the overall picture of all these connections:
Anyway, we think that is probably enough to have your lawyers begging you to discontinue any dealings with STRC. We're glad to have helped out, and apologize on behalf of normal Iranians for the military and IRGC's awful habit of conducting WMD-related activities under the guise of legitimate medical research.
With best regards,